When I travel from Walhalla up the mountain toward Cashiers, I usually stop at a wide place by the road, where the battered guard rail is covered with graffiti. From this point, you can look back down on South Carolina, Keowee Valley, the power company lakes and the paraphernalia of nuclear power generation.
Taking in the view, I think about the old times, when this was the home of the Cherokee. From this overlook I can see where the paths of Bartram and Michaux crossed. Both of them, on their separate trips, surveyed the scene from Keowee Town before scaling the Blue Wall to a place of natural wonders.
The British constructed Fort Prince George on the banks of the Keowee in 1753, but it had changed by the time William Bartram saw it two decades later:
There are several Indian mounts or tumuli, and terraces, monuments of the ancients, at the old site of Keowe, near the fort Prince George, but no Indian habitations at present; and here are several dwellings inhabited by white people concerned in the Indian trade. The old fort Prince George now bears no marks of a fortress, but serves for a trading house.
Fort Prince George
Forty years ago, however, the Keowee River and the historic site of Fort Prince George became casualties of our insatiable appetites.
Buzz Williams, writing for the Chattoga Conservancy, describes the trees cleared for Keowee and Jocassee:
Construction of these two lakes required harvesting the wild timberlands in the lake basins, including some of the last stands of native old growth forest in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. These lakes also inundated some of the best bottomland in upstate South Carolina. When Crescent Land and Timber Company, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, finished the clearing operation in the fall of 1969, they had harvested 17.5 million board feet of pine sawtimber, 15 million board feet of hardwood sawtimber and 51,800 cords of pulpwood.
On Coon Branch
Duke boasted about the timber harvest in a brochure, and said that this was enough sawtimber to build 2,350 six-room houses and that the pulpwood would load 2,250 railroad cars. Some of the Yellow poplar trees that were harvested in the ancient forest of Jocassee were reported to be 200 feet tall, seven feet in diameter and over 200 years old.
Only a remnant of such splendor remains in the Coon Branch Natural Area on the west bank of the Whitewater River, accessible from the Bad Creek Project.
I’ve found an unusual document from when the rivers were damned, written by Marshall Williams, who was involved in salvage archaeology of the fort:
On the afternoon of Saturday, May 11, 1968 I stood alone in the rain and bade farewell to Fort Prince George. I then drove out of the valley, knowing I had seen this site for the last time. By the next day, the dam which Duke Power Company had built caused the Keowee River to flood the valley, and to blot out, for untold generations to come, the historic sites of Fort Prince George and Keowee, the Indian town…
The report is a good read. Williams offers a unique and poignant perspective on the excavation. And it does not end there…
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